The use of tear gas in controlling riots has been an accepted practice in many countries for the past four decades. In a recent event, a large quantity of tear-gas canisters were used during a situation of unrest in a Hong Kong Refugees' Detention Centre. We report 96 cases of acute burn injury as an unpredicted side effect of o-chlorobenzylidene malononitrile (CS) tear gas. There were 47 females and 49 males with an age ranging between < 1 to 51 years. These burns were categorized as minor burns, with the total body surface area (TBSA) ranging from 1 to 8 per cent with mean percentage of 3. Most of the patients sustained superficial or partial-skin thickness injuries. Only two patients were admitted to the Prince of Wales Hospital Burns Centre because of deeper burns; debridement and skin grafting was required in one of them. The mechanism of burn injury was due to the flame generated from the grenade explosion, direct contact between the hot canister and the victim's skin, and the effect of the chemical powder inside the canisters when it splashed onto the victim's body. We suggest that the noxious transient effects of tear gas are underestimated, furthermore varying cutaneous effects and deep burns may result from its uncontrolled use during riots. There is a continuing need to reassess the potential toxic effects of CS tear gas as a riot control agent and to debate whether its future use can be condoned under any circumstances.